- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2019

President Trump called for a major buildup of U.S. missile defense systems Thursday, saying the nation faces increased threats from Iran, Russia, North Korea and China and vowing that the U.S. military will stay at the forefront of weapons technology on land, sea and in outer space.

In an address at the Pentagon, Mr. Trump outlined six key changes to U.S. missile defense, highlighting plans for space-based sensors to detect hostile missile launches and insisting he would put a priority on the defense of Americans “above all else.”

“We have some very bad players out there,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re a good player, but we can be a far worse player than anybody. We have the finest weapons in the world, and we’re ordering the finest weapons in the world.”

The revamped missile defense strategy was spelled out in the Defense Department’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review, the first such overhaul in nearly a decade.

Pentagon officials said the study, originally scheduled for release a year ago, will serve as a comprehensive blueprint for America’s missile defense strategy and addresses more traditional threats from ballistic missiles as well as cutting-edge weapons such as the hypersonic missiles under development in Russia and China. The report comes as the president is withdrawing the U.S. from a nuclear treaty with Russia on shorter-range nuclear weapons, with Mr. Trump saying Moscow has cheated on the agreement while the U.S. has been limited in its ability to take on emerging rivals worldwide.

But neither the president nor the report said how much the missile-defense upgrades would cost taxpayers. Missile defense spending increased in the current fiscal year about 25 percent, to $9.9 billion, amid concerns over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Mr. Trump’s critics applauded the renewed focus on defense technology but urged caution on the price tag, suggesting that Congress will play a key role in determining which Defense Department anti-missile programs get funded.

“An effective missile defense system can serve as a deterrent to conflict, protect our forward-deployed forces and the homeland, and create an opening for diplomacy,” Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “But it’s not a magic bulletproof shield and it comes with a considerable price tag.”

“Congress needs to carefully study these recommendations and get more answers about success rates, costs, and a host of issues,” he continued.

Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed those sentiments.

“It is essential that we ensure we are spending money on programs that are reliable and rigorously tested before they are deployed,” he said.

Pentagon officials said the budget details of the new missile-defense program will be spelled out in the president’s fiscal year 2020 spending proposal, which is expected in the coming weeks.

Specifically, the president said the new plan will include an emphasis on space-based defense technology and 20 new above-ground interceptors in Alaska to detect foreign missiles. He called it a program “that can shield every city in the United States.”

The president said the U.S. needs to stay “several steps ahead of those who would do us harm.”

“We will never negotiate away our right to do this,” he said. “The world is changing, and we’re going to change much faster than the rest of the world.”

Later Thursday, Pentagon officials stressed that their top priority is ensuring the U.S. can repel any attack from rogue states such as North Korea or Iran. But officials also zeroed in on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim to have built a hypersonic nuclear weapon that can evade any existing defense systems.

Russia has done very substantial things as well … and they haven’t been bashful about it,” the Pentagon’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John C. Rood told reporters during a briefing just after the president’s address.

The missile review addresses several specific countries and says “the threat environment is markedly more dangerous than in years past and demands a concerted U.S. effort to improve existing capabilities for both homeland and regional missile defense.”

It identifies threats from North Korea, Russia, China and Iran. Tehran, the report warned, now “has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East and continues the development of technologies applicable to intercontinental range missiles capable of threatening the United States.”

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